Just wanted to share that next week while thousands of New Jersey school children will be subjected to the annual ASK standardized tests, my 12-year old son Tucker will not be among them. We made a formal request to opt out, which is our legal right in NJ, and he’ll be staying home during the testing periods. (The absences are excused, btw.)
Wendy and I came to this decision after seriously considering the potential effects for the school and after some serious conversations with Tuck. Obviously, he didn’t mind the staying home part, but he did have concerns about what others might say or think. I’m thinking that won’t be a problem, but we wanted to make sure that in the end he was on board, and he is.
Below is a letter that we’re sending to the local paper and to nj.com. It articulates our reasoning and, I hope, might get other parents and community members to start some conversations around the tests. Just fyi, as a courtesy, I’ve already sent a copy to the principal at Tucker’s school to make sure she didn’t have any issues.
Interested in your thoughts, as always.
To the Editor:
After much thought, we have decided to keep our son home during the 7th Grade NJ ASK standardized assessments that are being given in his school next week. It is our legal right to do so, and we are basing this decision on our serious concerns about what the test itself is doing to our son’s opportunity to receive a well-rounded, relevant education, and because of the intention of state policy makers to use the test in ways it was never intended to be used. These concerns should be shared by every parent and community member who wants our children to be fully prepared for the much more complex and connected world in which they will live, and by those who care about our ability to flourish as a country moving forward.
Our current school systems and assessments were created for a learning world that is quickly disappearing. In his working life, my son will be expected to solve real world problems, create and share meaningful work with the world, make sense of reams of unedited digital information, and regularly work with others a half a world away using computers and mobile devices. The NJ ASK tells us nothing about his ability or preparedness to do that. The paper and pencil tasks given on the test provide little useful information on what he has learned that goes beyond what we can see for ourselves on a daily basis and what his teachers relay to us through their own assessments in class. We implicitly trust the caring professionals in our son’s classroom to provide this important, timely feedback as opposed to a single data point from one test, data that is reported out six months later without any context for areas where he may need help or remediation. In short, these tests don’t help our son learn, nor do they help his teachers teach him.
In addition, the test itself poses a number of problems:
- Over the years, the “high stakes” nature of school evaluation has narrowed instruction to focus on only those areas that are tested. This has led to reductions in the arts, languages, physical education and more.
- Research has shown that high scores can be achieved without any real critical thinking or problem solving ability.
- The huge amount of tax dollars that are being spent on creating, delivering and scoring the tests, dollars that are going to businesses with, no surprise, powerful lobbyists in the state capitol and in Washington, DC, is hugely problematic.
- Proposals to use these test scores for up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation are equally problematic. The tests were not created for such a use, and to create even higher stakes for the NJ ASK will only create more test prep in our classrooms at the expense of the relevant, authentic, real world learning that our students desperately need.
- These tests create unnecessary anxiety and stress in many students who feel immense pressure to do well.
In no way are we taking this step because of our dissatisfaction with our son’s public school, the teachers and administrators there, or our school board. We have simply had enough of national and state policies that we feel are hurting the educational opportunities for all children. At the end of the day, we don’t care what our son scores on a test that doesn’t measure the things we hold most important in his education: the development of his interest in learning, his ability to use the many resources he has at his disposal to direct his own learning, and his ability to work with others to create real world solutions to the problems we face. And we feel our tax dollars are better spent supporting our schools and our teachers who will help him reach those goals as well as the goals detailed by the state standards in ways that are more relevant, engaging and important than four days of testing could ever accomplish.
Will and Wendy Richardson